For such a high-profile premium brand, Tesla's new facility in Dublin is surprisingly underwhelming. Forget the fussball tables, hammocks and bean bags normally associated with the offices of Silicon Valley tech giants: the Irish operation is run from a nondescript industrial unit in Sandyford, Co Dublin, with all the charm of a 1980s brush factory.
Its lacklustre look is not helped by its new neighbour, the nearly-finished €20 million glass palace being built across the road. The new Audi Centre being constructed by UK retail giant Charles Hurst is a bricks-and-mortar metaphor to remind people that for all the hype, in sales terms Tesla remains a motoring minnow.
So far this year, 47 new Teslas have been registered, up from just seven last year. Clearly the opening of its new sales and service outlet is paying dividends. Those sales break down to 32 Model S and 17 of the bulkier, Model X crossover.
But there is no question that Tesla is growing at a remarkable pace internationally and rewriting the rulebook, forcing the likes of Audi and its ilk to embrace the future. Thousands of new IT and engineering jobs have been created at traditional car firms in direct response to Elon Musk’s disruptive tendencies.
And given that Tesla buyers are encouraged to do their business online, who is to say it’s not right to forgo the multimillion-euro glass showroom in favour of a more practical abode.
Sleek executive car
So to the motoring metal at hand and arguably the most hyped car of the last decade. While we have driven several Teslas at various test events over the years, this was our first chance to actually live with the Model S for more than a day. That way we can look past the initial wow factor that shrouds all things Tesla these days.
In the €100,000-plus price bracket, the sleek executive car is clearly pitched against the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and its ilk.
So how does it fare? In terms of badge appeal, it certainly cuts muster. From a marketing point of view, the Tesla brand story is a tale of phenomenal success. It's akin to Apple in terms of high-end kudos.
As sleek and impressive as the new S-Class is, it doesn’t deliver the same wow factor as a Tesla. When it comes to motoring snobbery, Tesla currently has the upper hand.
Part of that, undoubtedly, is down to the limited number of them on Irish roads. In contrast, in countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands, where the Model S is commonly used as a taxi, these cars are a common sight. Here it takes about 24 hours for the Tesla thrill to wear off.
The thankless task of a motoring hack requires that you look past the initial thrill and the new-car smell, to try and consider what ownership would be like after 18 months. Will there be a pang of regret on that rain-soaked Monday morning in February?
The first iterations of the Model S we drove several years ago didn’t deliver anything like the crisp handling and reassuring steering feel of its premium European rivals. This latest Model S comes much closer, if still not on a par with rivals.
Our test car didn’t feature the firm’s latest air suspension either, which is a shame, for the ride without it can be quite harsh, even on relatively smooth Irish motorways. So the Mercedes S-Class is significantly better than the Tesla in ride and handling.
Where the Tesla has always scores well, however, is in its powertrain. Its raw, silent acceleration is as ludicrous as the billing suggests. And it has another boon in that it tackles the Achilles heel of electric cars: range anxiety. While our test car featured the entry-level 75 kilowatt battery, buyers will be mostly opt for the larger battery packs, giving greater range. Either way the range exceeds what is on offer from most electric rivals. Our Model S promised 455km on a full charge, with average speeds of 100km/h and temperatures of 10 degrees Celsius.
Such details matter in the world of electric cars. Kick up your speed to the motorway legal 120km/h and the official range falls to 348km. For the 100D version – with the 100kW battery – the promised range is up to 632kms.
Recharging is relatively painless. We charged the Tesla from a regular 3kW home charger each night. Depending on your electricity supplier the costs per kW/h range from 13.4 cent to 17 cent. So from empty to full on the 75D of roughly €11.25 or so. However, on the 3kW charger, it’s going to take 25 hours for a full charge from empty.
Clearly, plugging in at home is best done with either the 7kW chargers if possible, or topping up at home once you’ve had a fill from one of the faster chargers dotted around the island – though mostly on the eastern side. These range from 16kW destination chargers installed by Tesla in selected locations to the public fast chargers, offering up to 50kW an hour.
Tesla does offer the quickest option on the market with its the supercharging stations. However, currently there is only one location on the island, at the Topaz service station outside Ballacolla, Co Laois. It took us just under an hour to get to a full charge and a range of 378km – enough time to grab a coffee and sandwich while checking the latest from irishtimes.com. However, I can't see many Tesla owners from Dublin making a trip to Co Laois part of their weekend routine.
Besides, by the time we got back to Dublin the battery was down to a projected range of 206km, after a trip of 126km. Tesla does have plans for more supercharging stations: next up is Enfield, Co Meath, one in Limerick and another in Lisburn, outside Belfast.
Even then Ireland’s relatively poor recharging network west of the Shannon means you will feel pangs of angst if you plan to wander around the remoter parts of the west coast, unless you buy the bigger 100kW battery.
Back to more mundane motoring matters and inside the car, the dominant feature remains Tesla’s enormous touchscreen. It’s incredibly intuitive, though there are some controls, such as locking and unlocking doors, that should be returned to the world of the analogue buttons. And just a note on the switches and stalks that do remain; they clearly come from the same parts bin used by Mercedes-Benz several years ago and are frankly not on a par with what rivals offer on €100,000 cars these days. Overall, the cabin lacks the luxury touches you get with similarly-priced rivals.
The next big innovation for Tesla, of course, is the promise of its driverless technology. The Tesla Model S is now offered with full self-driving hardware, ahead of the rollout of the software – and the introduction of relevant legislation to allow drivers to use it on public roads. Whatever about legislative delays, despite promises that the tech would be ready in a matter of months, this has yet to come to pass.
Missed deadlines are becoming a big problem for Tesla. More recently production issues at the firm's Gigafactory 1 battery plant in Nevada are reportedly causing production delays of its all-important Model 3 saloon. Musk referenced the nine circles of hell in Dante's Inferno in a note to investors when discussing the problems at the plant.
Yet for all the annoyance this is causing customers and investors, it’s hard not to admire the breakneck pace of innovation at Tesla, and its efforts to lead the electric car revolution.
So is the Model S ready for Irish roads? The new benefit-in-kind rules, which enacts a zero per cent rate on electric cars for three to five years, may entice more executives to the brand, particularly low-mileage motorists. And early adopters are happy to put up with the odd foible in order to be part of the pioneering effort.
Yet when the thrill of Tesla ownership wears off and you aren't flashing the "toy car" keyring at cocktail parties, you will probably feel you could have done with one more S-Class before joining the mission of Elon Musk.
Lowdown: Tesla Model S 75D
Power: 75kW battery pack power two electric motors giving it all-wheel drive
Top speed: 225km/h
0-100km/h: 4.4 seconds
Price: From €91,395 for private buyer of 75D (from €118,837 for 100D version)
Our verdict: Premium plug-in appeal but quality needs to be better at this price
Our rating: 3/5